Do you remember Hossa’s first game as a Hawk? How could you forget it?
We waited nearly two months for him to be unveiled, requiring shoulder surgery after he signed here in the summer of 2009. We heard the buzz when he started practicing. Joel Quenneville seemed amazed, as he told the press that normally returning players from injury slow practice down, but Hossa actually sped it up. I clearly recall my ticket rep at the time, who would sneak down and watch practice at times, telling me on the phone, “Wait ’til you see this guy.” We kind of knew what we were in for. Did we completely know, though?
I’d say it was like Christmas, except it was on black Wednesday. There he was, in the 2nd period on the penalty kill, simply smothering the point-men for the Sharks with Jonathan Toews. They caused a turnover and though they’d barely played a period together, Toews knew where Hossa was. And he was gone in a flash. The Sharks couldn’t get anywhere near him.
He made it look so easy. Evgeni Nabokov might as well have skated off the corner. You know true class when you see it. That was this. So effortless. I remember Fifth Feather, when he had his own blog (far better than this one) described it in his wrap, and filed it under, “Oh right, he kills penalties too!” folder.
Hossa capped off that complete demolition of the Sharks, finishing off a ridiculous feed from Brent Sopel! (remember this connection). He had an entire net to slot the puck into, but there were few who could dart into the space he got to as quickly as he did to be that open.
With Hossa in the fold, the Hawks unveiled that night just what an unholy force they were. They were already good, one of the best teams around. With Hossa, you felt like they could do ANYTHING. That’s still one of my favorite nights as a Hawks fan (although it probably didn’t hurt that was the night I met an incredible woman I would be with for the next five years, but fuck it, Hossa is responsible for that too!!)
He finally showed up at the United Center, and all of us marveled at the way he would just dominate shifts. Sure, we’d seen Toews and Kane rise through their first two years and look genuine stars. But they didn’t simply muscle and streak through entire teams the way Hossa did. It’s like he consumed the opponent. It was RAW POWER on ice. Had any Hawks before him, at least in recent memory, simply bowled his way through whatever was in front of him?
He regaled us with moments throughout that season. There was his toss in the air goal against the Lightning. His slapper-on-a-breakaway goal against Ottawa. The countless backchecks where he stole the puck before the other guy ever knew he was there.
Ah yes, Game 5. We had hoped Hossa would put his playoff demons of 2009 with Detroit behind him. And then he took what seemed to be a killer major penalty with a minute to go and the Hawks trailing. It wasn’t malicious, just reckless. Over-exuberant. He probably should have been ejected. He wasn’t. But the Hawks tied anyway, because that’s just something they did. They killed off four minutes in overtime. And there he came, streaking out of the box, with a roar from the crowd for just coming back onto the ice.
Sopel’s deflected shot to him seemed to get there in slow motion. You could see it happening, but you couldn’t force it through to Hossa. It took forever. But it got there, and he slotted it past Rinne. Definitive moment, you have it.
We hoped that would spring him to a dominant playoff run. He only notched a couple more, but one of them was the opener in Game 2 against Philly.
We’ve been blessed to have years of Hossa simply doing whatever he wanted on the ice. We feared it was all over thanks to Raffi Torres. There were whispers he might retire. I didn’t even remember that before Torres tried to maim him, that was Hossa’s best season here, with 77 points. But he didn’t retire, and was one of the Hawks best forwards in the last three games against Boston with a foot he couldn’t feel. That was after he put the dagger in the Kings in Game 4 in LA with a one-timer that left a vapor trail. We still don’t appreciate his playoffs fully, even I had forgotten he had 16 points in 21 games in 2013.
But to appreciate Hossa, the numbers don’t really tell you the whole story. Not until we can really quantify 200-foot games better they don’t. He can’t do it the way he used to, or at least not for a full game. But there’s a flash or two every game. Whether it’s him charging past every single Flyer last night for #500 or the simply gorgeous exchange he and Smaltz had up the ice on one rush in the first period last night as well.
I’m confident in saying I’ve never seen a Hawk like Hossa. Not old enough for Secord and he certainly couldn’t skate like Hossa could (and really still can). Larmer was more cerebral. Roenick too volatile. I wonder if we’ll ever see another who after every shift, the only thing you can say is, “That’s a grown-ass man, right there.” Even my father, not much of a hockey fan, would marvel at Hossa. I remember him turning to me at one game and saying, “I know I don’t know much, but I know good things happen when that guy has the puck.” I still haven’t written something as succinct and analytical.
Here’s to you, Hoss. It’s been an utter joy. Hope it goes just a little longer.